[PORTRAIT] That Bastian Schweinsteiger slalomed through three Argentines late in Germany's 4-0 quarterfinal win to set up Arne Friedrich's close-range goal had the German press recalling that Schweinsteiger was once an accomplished skier. But most remarkable is that the 25-year-old is a defensive midfielder who has throughout the World Cup sparked the German attack so much that he's a candidate for the Golden Ball MVP Award.
Schweinsteiger plays in front of the German central defense, but storms into the attack constantly without seeming ever to neglect his defensive duties. He also assisted on Germany’s first strike against Argentina and on Germany’s third goal in a 4-1 win over England in the round of 16.
The 5-foot-11 Schweinsteiger is one of only seven members of the 2010 German team who were part of Germany's third-place finish on home soil at the World Cup in 2006, but he’s playing a different role.
After Michael Ballack, considered Germany’s top player for nearly a decade, was ruled out injured, Schweinsteiger moved from the wing into a central role. He made a smooth transition – perhaps no surprise because he took over a central spot last season for Bayern Munich, the 2010 European Champions League runner-up and Bundesliga champion.
“[Bayern coach] Louis van Gaal gave me the chance to play in my favorite position – the one I grew up playing,” Schweinsteiger said.
Schweinsteiger, who hails from the Bavarian town of Kolbermoor – also the birthplace of former Bayern Munich star and 1974 world champion Paul Breitner -- joined Bayern Munich’s youth program at age 14.
“As I child, I thought I would be either a skier or a soccer player,” said Schweinsteiger, whose older brother, Tobias, was a three-time youth national runner-up in skiing and now plays third division soccer. “When I got the offer from Bayern I had to make quick decision.”
He told GQ.com, “I thought, first of all, you don’t freeze as much. And second of all, you don’t need to carry around so much equipment or get up so early in the morning.”
Schweinsteiger debuted for Bayern Munich’s first team at age 18 in a Champions League game in 2002 and earned his first cap for Germany at age 19. He started all seven games for Germany at the 2006 World Cup, but his Euro 2008 performance was marred by a red card against Portugal.
Afterward, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Schweinsteiger, who also had some off-field discipline issues such as a speeding ticket for driving at 150 mph, to “stop doing all these foolish things.”
“When the Chancellor tells you to do something, you have to listen," Schweinsteiger responded.
His play in South Africa has Franz Beckenbauer, a world champion for West Germany as captain and coach, saying, on the eve of Germany’s semifinal with Spain, that Schweinsteiger is the tournament’s best player so far.
“He has done an unbelievable job,” said Beckenbauer. “For me, he’s a newborn superstar.”
With Bayern, Schweinsteiger, who turns 26 on Aug. 1, has already won five league and five German Cup titles.
“He is our emotional leader,” said Germany coach Joachim Loew. “He is the heart and motor of the team.”